A Doncaster rail line – is this really what the Greens stand for?
In my last post about the Green’s election manifesto, a Public transport plan for Melbourne’s east, I indicated I would take a closer look at the two new rail lines the party is proposing to finance – a line to Rowville and a line to Doncaster – with its nonexistent $6 billion.
I discussed the shortcomings of the Rowville line a few months ago when the Liberals also came out in favour of it (is there a winnable seat in the vicinity perhaps?), so here I’ll just concern myself with the proposed Doncaster line.
The Greens say a line is needed because Manningham is the only municipality in Melbourne without either a train line or a tram line. And they say a rail line was promised before – plans were drawn up in 1969 but never acted on.
I’m not impressed by this logic. Do we spend billions of dollars on infrastructure because some area is “entitled” to a track even if it’s not the best solution? Should we get the 1969 freeway plan because it’s a “broken” promise too?
I’d be more impressed if the Greens had provided some justification, but they haven’t. There’s no attempt to measure expected patronage and no indication of the possible economic benefits compared to other potential investments. Nor is there any indication of the annual operating cost and the ongoing subsidy that the line would require.
The proposal is that the line would run from the CBD via a tunnel under Carlton and Fitzroy to Victoria Park station on the Hurstbridge-Epping line. It would then run along the median of the Eastern Freeway (which was designed from the outset to take a rail line) until 1.5 km east of Bulleen Rd. At that point it would run underground to a new station at Doncaster.
There are some very serious questions that need to be asked about this proposal.
First: Why build a new rail line that would largely benefit middle and upper income households when the outer suburbs are far worse off in terms of public transport supply? As pointed out here, Manningham is a pretty comfortable area. Yet the Greens are also proposing in the same election package to extend the No. 48 tram line from North Balwyn to Doncaster.
The proposal also involves constructing new underground stations at Fitzroy, Carlton and Parkville. Just why these sorts of upper income inner city areas, which are already very well connected to the city centre by trams, justify this level of expenditure ahead of other parts of Melbourne, is not explained.
Second: Does it really make sense to spend billions replacing an existing high quality public transport system with another more expensive one? The Greens ignore the recently launched Doncaster Area Rapid Transit (DART) SmartBus service.
Four DART city routes and two orbital routes provide a 15 minute bus service during the day (7-10 minutes in the peak) and 30 minutes in the evening and on weekends. This is better than I get on the Hurstbridge line! The DART system also serves a much larger catchment than a single station could. Under the Greens plan, travellers will have to drive or take a bus to the new Doncaster station and then change to a train for the second leg of their trip.
Third: What is the sense of building a 12.5 km rail line from Victoria Park to serve effectively just one major station i.e. Doncaster? Yes, intermediate stations are envisaged at Chandler Hwy, Burke Rd and Bulleen Rd, but they would be located in the centre of the freeway.
A glance at the Melway shows they would all be a considerable distance from the nearest substantial body of housing. This is the antithesis of good transit design which seeks to minimise walk distances. There is also little chance of fostering any significant transit-oriented development around them. In other words there’s nothing “on the way”.
Fourth: Would the level of patronage justify heavy rail? The Greens don’t estimate the number of users, all they say is that the City of Manningham has 118,000 residents and no rail line.
I doubt that this is enough to justify a rail line given the high cost of retrofitting infrastructure in built up areas. Only 10% of Manningham travellers currently journey to the City of Melbourne on a typical weekday (all purposes, all modes) and only 3% on a weekend day. Some of them might use the proposed new tram instead, diluting patronage on both.
Fifth: Is there actually a public transport problem in Manningham compared to other areas? This study of public transport supply across Melbourne (see map) suggests that not only is Manningham very well off compared to the outer suburbs, it does as well as most other middle suburbs that have a rail line. And the study pre-dates the new DART system.
Of course the residents of Manningham would be better off if they had a new rail line and new tram line. But the key priority should be to provide public transport where it will yield the largest social, environmental and economic benefits. On the face of it, the outer suburbs would seem to have a much stronger claim than Manningham.
I commend the Greens for identifying the need for unglamorous improvements like triplications and maintenance, but it’s a pity that clarity is undone by promoting proposals like this one. This looks like someone’s playing trains rather than working at really improving public transport.
So far as Manningham is concerned, a better plan would be to give buses greater priority over cars and trucks on the Eastern freeway and inner city road system, especially at peak times.